Vast majority of animal transport ships deemed unseaworthy


Vast majority of animal transport ships deemed unseaworthy

26 March 2024
64 animal transport vessels are allowed to cross European waters, but only 6 of them meet international safety standards. Former ferry or cargo vessels that had their security clearances revoked are commonly used to transport live animals, meaning the average animal transport vessel in the EU is several decades old, and very unsafe to operate.

Animal Welfare Foundation, together with the French environmental organisation Robin Des Bois, published a comprehensive report on the true state of these sea vessels, concluding that urgent measures must be taken to stop their use.

Sea vessels for animal transport are far from welfare-friendly

Among the 64 animal transport vessels approved for use in the EU currently,  only 4 vessels were originally built for the purpose of transporting animals. All other vessels were retrofitted after around 30 years at sea. 

As this film documents, these vessels are filled with hazards, from sharp edges to rust and defective struts, creating a very high level of risk for both the animals and crew onboard.

With the majority of vessels being in such a dilapidated state, it’s not surprising that there have been a string of disasters during live animal transport by sea over the past years, such as in the case of the Karim Allah and Elbaik

Thousands of animals are spending weeks in these unseaworthy ships, where they are forced to stand knee-deep in their own excrement and are exposed to high temperatures, rough seas, crowded quarters, disease and more.

Nearly half of the EU’s live animal sea vessels are flying the black flag

AWF and RDB’s research also reveals that nearly half of the animal transport vessels approved in the EU flew the flag of a country marked by the Paris Memorandum of Understanding as a black flag (for example Togo, Sierra Leone or Tanzania). 

This flag indicates these vessels pose a high risk to maritime traffic, as well as to the animals, crew and environment. 

The fact these vessels continue to be used show there is a clear lack of concern for animal and human welfare within this transport sector. Three years ago, 17 vessels were identified as highly dangerous for use in transporting animals, but 15 of them are still operational today. 

Action must be taken to improve live animal transport at sea

Three years ago, the European Commission received an initial joint report by AWF and RDB on 78 animal transport vessels approved in the EU. This year's report shows there has been continued inaction in regards to establishing the safety of these vessels and the welfare of animals in this industry, even against the recommendation of the Commission’s very own inquiry committees

If these vessels that are falling apart continue to be used, more transport disasters are inevitable. 

If the industry is not stopped entirely, sea vessels must at least fly the white flag and be IACS-standardised and fully functional, accommodating basic safety measures for the animals and personnel on board. Further, black and grey flags must be prohibited. Strict limits to journey times by sea must be included in the revised Transport Regulation, to mitigate the suffering of animals while they are transported across water.

EU legislation must finally confront the brutal reality of live animal transport by sea and take action. No animal belongs on a ship, [and the sector] cannot and must not continue like this.

Iris Baumgärtner, Animal Welfare Foundation Project Lead

At Eurogroup for Animals, we are working towards a complete ban on live exports. It is very difficult to control what happens to animals once they leave the EU's borders. Only a full ban is enough to protect their welfare. Find out more.